WASHINGTON – Nasima Hossain,public health advocate at the Public Interest Research Group,held up a toy bowling pin,then dropped it into a small cylinder – the size of a shot glass – with an audible clink.
“It’s obviously really easy for a child to choke on this,” Hossain said,having discovered a safety violation with this toy she found at a dollar store in Arlington,Va.
At the conference,Dr. Bryan Rudolph,a pediatric gastroenterology fellow at Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in New York,said he is particularly worried about children swallowing high-powered magnets found in some toys. He demonstrated this by sticking his index finger out and placing one magnet on top and one below – they stuck.
“These magnets will go through pretty much anything,” Rudolph said. “They go through my finger,they go through bone,they go through muscle,they go through tissue. That’s what makes them so dangerous. They’re not normal magnets you’d find on your refrigerator.”
PIRG urges parents to test toys that may present a choking hazard by passing them through a toilet paper roll. If it fits,young children should not play with it.
“If a toy fits in this tube,it is too small for a child under 3,” Hossain said.
Although the glass tube is the official measurement,the toilet paper roll is an easy way for parents to check.
Hossain said PIRG wants the CPSC to make the regulation test choke tube bigger.
Scott Wolfson,director of the office of communications for CPSC,said the measures for small parts are reliable.
“Small-parts standards have saved countless lives. It is one of the best child safety standards in the United States,” Wolfson said. “We are open at CPSC to looking to improving our standards,but we will need the advocates to petition our agency. If they have data showing that the current standards can be improved .”
Randolph said ingesting small,high-powered magnets can have serious,sometimes fatal,consequences.
“It will eventually lead to something called pressure necrosis,where it will start … eroding through the tissue. If you try and remove these things after a couple of hours,you’ll often see deep ulcerations in the tissue.”
The problem,Randolph said,is that the symptoms from swallowing magnets are usually written off as a stomachache. The children are often too young to tell doctors what they’ve swallowed,so the intestinal damage only gets worse with time.
Joan Lawrence,vice president of standards and government affairs for the Toy Industry Association, said the small-parts standard has been working well for decades.
“Our U.S. toy safety standard for small parts has been around for about 30 years,” Lawrence said. “It was developed with government and input from pediatricians. On multiple occasions it’s been retested by our federal government and has been demonstrated to be an effective standard at protecting children under 3,” she said.
“We think that they’re needlessly frightening parents,” Liestner said. “I mean,we share the concern for safety,but if you read the fine print in their report,just about every one of the products that they listed is actually compliant with our very strict toy safety standards,” he said.
Liestner agreed with PIRG about the risks of having high-powered magnets in children’s toys,but said manufacturers rarely use the kind that Randolph used in his demonstration.
He said the toy bowling set should not have been in a store but that PIRG found few violations when the group searched toy shelves.
“We absolutely agree that high-powered magnets are a serious risk. There is a longstanding safety requirement that the magnets in toys be much less powerful than the ones that they showed in here today. If there is something on the shelves that does not comply with the standards,the toy industry wants that to be pulled just as much as PIRG does,” he said.
Reach reporter Jory Heckman at [email protected] or 202-326-9868. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.
This story has been updated to correct the spelling Nasima Hossain’s name.